Special Focus on Age Discrimination in Forced Migration Law, Policy, and Practice.

Author:Clark-Kazak, Christina


This special focus of Refuge highlights the widespread but under-researched occurrence of age discrimination in forced migration law, policy, and practice. Using a conceptual lens of social age, authors analyze the ways in which people in situations of forced migration are treated differently on the basis of chronological age, biological development, and family status. By framing this differential treatment as discrimination, this special focus approaches age as an equity issue. Such an approach differentiates the articles presented here from other recent scholarship on specific age groups, which is framed largely in terms of their vulnerabilities and needs. This special focus is intended to stimulate further research and activism on age discrimination in all its forms in varying contexts of forced migration.


L'accent particulier accorde a ce sujet dans Refuge souligne l'incidence generalisee, bien qu'insuffisamment etudiee, de la discrimination fondee sur l'age dans la legislation, la politique et la pratique concernant la migration forcee. A l'aide de l'optique theorique de l'age social, les auteurs abordent une analyse du traitement differencie accordee aux personnes en situation de migration forcee en fonction de leur age chronologique, de leur developpement biologique et de leur statut familial. En considerant ces differences dans le traitement par l'entremise du cadre de la discrimination, l'age est concu en tant qu'enjeu d'equite dans l'optique de cette approche particuliere. Une telle approche dans les articles presentes ici se demarque des travaux et recherches recentes sur les groupes d'age specifiques qui se conceptualisent plutot en fonction des vulnerabilites et besoins des sujets concernes. Cette approche particuliere vise a inciter des recherches ulterieures ainsi que des activites politiques concernant la discrimination fondee sur l'age dans toutes ses manifestations dans les divers contextes de la migration forcee.

Conceptualizing Age Discrimination in Contexts of Forced Migration

Most migration law and policy--both domestic and international--use chronological age as the predominant definition of generational categories. For example, Article 1 of the un Convention on the Rights of the Child defines a child as "every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier." (2) These chronological age-based categories are reproduced in migration laws and policies. For example, at a domestic level, Canada's Immigration and Refugee Protection Act (IRPA) for the most part uses chronological age definitions of children and older people. (3) While intended to provide a clear-cut way to justify inclusion in (and exclusion from) age categories, this predominant reliance on chronological age is problematic for many reasons.

First, as Kimberly Seibel and Stephanie J. Silverman point out in their articles in this volume, people in situations of forced migration may not necessarily know their chronological birthdate and/or may not have documents to prove it. In the absence of "proof" of their chronological age, displaced people faced with entering demographic data on migration forms may be obliged to invent what Seibel calls "bureaucratic birthdates," (4) with far-reaching administrative consequences in access to services structured according to chronological age categories. Absence of proof for unaccompanied minors in the United Kingdom has also led to the use of controversial age assessments as an imposed "solution" to age disputes in order to legitimize the conception of "real" children, as Silverman explains.

Second, chronological age categories are arbitrary in the sense that they really only mark the passage of time. While in Western medical, psychological, and educational circles, there has been a tendency to assume that chronological age is a proxy for biological, cognitive, and social development, recent research in these fields indicates a wide range of variation on all these issues due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors. (5) Another indicator of the arbitrary nature of chronological age categories relates to the wide variation of definitions even within the same document. For example, in IRPA, while children are generally defined as under the age of eighteen, there are different chronological age requirements for application processes. (6)

Third, in many contexts, other biological and social markers of age are as, if not more, important than chronological age. These include puberty, marital status, parenthood and child rearing, formal employment, enrolment in education, and menopause. (7) It should also be noted that some age categories--such as children--refer to a period of human development, as well as a social and familial relationship.

In response to these flaws within the prevailing chronological approach to age, authors in this volume have adopted the complementary concept of social age. Social age refers to "socially...

To continue reading